You don’t need me to tell you how much better you feel after a good night’s sleep.
Sharper. Smarter. Less likely to bite your partner’s head off at the breakfast table because you can’t find the lid off the jam jar…
But, what you might not know, is just how profound an impact that downtime can have on just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives.
Sleep is the time for your body and mind to recharge. While you are drooling on your pillow, it is executing a host of functions absolutely vital to how we then operate in our waking hours.
According to the Centres For Disease Control And Prevention up to 35% of American adults don’t get enough sleep. In the modern working culture, good sleep is seen as a luxury; something to be worked around the demands of your lifestyle.
It should be the other way around.
Along with proper nutrition and exercise, it is one of the pillars upon which we should base a healthy lifestyle. This article will talk you through exactly what benefits you will get from shifting those priorities, plus some tips to help you get there and start living your best life. Starting tonight.
8 major benefits of a good sleep
Better weight management
Numerous studies have confirmed the links between a good night’s sleep and better weight management.
A 2020 study found adults who slept less than 7 hours a night had a 41% increased chance of developing obesity. That’s not a typo: 41%! (National Library Of Medicine)
Sleep deprivation messes with your hunger hormones- ghrelin and leptin- so you feel hungrier and less full. Not only do you eat more, but you also make poorer decisions with your food choices: craving foods higher in sugar and fat. We’ve all done it- reaching for the doughnut with your coffee for that pick-me-up… And to compound it, the fatigue after a bad night’s sleep leaves you feeling less motivated to do physical activities you might otherwise be doing.
So, less exercise and a worse diet. It’s a vicious cycle, and there are no prizes for guessing where it leads.
Helps your immune system
Proper sleep helps the proteins and cells of your immune system detect and destroy any foreign invaders your body encounter throughout the day.
If you are falling short with those Zzzz’s, your defences are down, and you are more prone to getting sick, and more often. And if you persist in getting a sub-standard night’s sleep you are depriving the body of its chance to rest and recover. Another one of those vicious cycles…
Lower risk of serious health issues
A lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.
Your heart rate and blood pressure naturally drop when you are asleep. But if you are not sleeping properly, your body’s sympathetic nervous system- responsible for your ‘fight or flight’ response- doesn’t have any time to wind-down, and keeps pumping out the stress hormones to keep you on high alert, unnecessarily. Then that high blood pressure, of course, carries through to the next day.
Poor sleep can also lead to inflammation, with fatty deposits building up in your arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease.
It also affects your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar, which can cause diabetes.
High blood + diabetes = a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
Suddenly, that grouchiness at breakfast and those love handles are the least of your worries.
Boosts your mood
Another function your brain performs while you sleep is processing your emotions. When you cut this time short, you are more inclined to negative emotional reactions and less inclined to positive ones. Your decision-making and problem-solving is severely impaired (and more on that shortly).
It also raises the chance of developing a mood disorder, with poor sleep linked to massively increased chances of depression, anxiety and panic disorders.
Good sleep equals a better mood throughout the day.
Better concentration, decision-making and motor skills
You know that you feel chirpier after a good night’s sleep, but the impact of a poor night’s sleep on our most fundamental capacity to operate is far-reaching.
When we are tired, we lose our ability to focus on tasks, our motor skills suffer, and our problem-solving and risk assessment is impaired, as are our reaction times.
As well as being ‘sub-optimal’ when it comes to your performance at work, they can even be downright dangerous. In fact, the effects of severe sleep deprivation are similar to the effects of ‘drinking on the job’. So, let’s hope if that’s you, you’re not working air traffic control!
Reduces your stress levels
This is another one of those vicious cycles: stress can often hinder your sleep, which leads to more stress hormones being released, which leads to poor sleep, which leads to more stress.
On the other hand, a good night’s sleep relaxes the very systems responsible for this response and has an ‘anti-stressing’ effect on your body.
Improves your social interactions
This ties in with the emotional regulation we mentioned earlier. Chronic lack of sleep impacts how you react to other people and makes it nigh-on impossible to be the best version of yourself.
Boosts your memory consolidation
Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation. While you are nuzzling down on your Egyptian cotton, your brain is busy processing the day’s events. Storing your feelings and memories away for access later. Disrupting this process has obvious implications for your memory’s storage and recall.
So what is “a good night’s sleep”?
Most adults need 7 or more hours of good-quality (ie deep and uninterrupted) sleep on a regular schedule each night.
But it’s worth noting you can have too much of a good thing- studies also linked regular sleep exceeding 9 hours with many of the same risks associated with deprivation.
Between 7 and 9 hours seems to be the Goldilocks zone here: not too much, not too little, but just right.
Tips to help…
- Work on establishing a sleep routine: getting to bed for the same amount of sleep every night.
- Stay away from caffeine late in the day
- Don’t exercise within 2 or 3 hours of going to sleep
- Avoid eating a large meal or consuming too much alcohol close to bedtime.
- Switch off from your smart-phones and computers a few hours before you go to bed
Are there any supplements that will help with a good night’s sleep?
Luckily, yes, there are.
Magnesium is the most influential supplement in ensuring you get a good night’s sleep. It plays a vital role in your body’s regulation of sleep, and studies have emphatically shown that the harm any deficiency can have. Not without good reason has it been dubbed “the most powerful relaxation mineral available”. Which makes it all the more surprising most Americans still don’t have enough of it in their diets! Even marginal deficiencies can affect your settling down at night, and as one of the supplements more readily available, this one is an easy win for us all. The fact that it cuts your risk of heart attacks and diabetes deserves an honourable mention too!
Calcium also plays a significant role in our sleep cycles too, especially in the REM phase. Helping the body use the amino acid tryptophan (the one in turkey that has us snoozing on the sofa after our Christmas dinner!), its sedative effect helps the body ease itself into sleep. On the flip side, deficiency can cause that restlessness that has you wrestling with your duvet, trying to avoid looking at the time on the alarm clock…
If you are having trouble waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to drift back off, a lack of potassium could be the culprit. It has a direct effect on that all-important deep-sleep phase, where your body does most of its repair work. In fact, it works in tandem with magnesium, so taking both together should have a real impact on the quality of your sleep (assuming you are following the other good sleep tips above).
B-12 has been found to support the production of the neurotransmitters involved in brain function and sleep, and a shortfall in B6 has links to psychological distress and sleep disturbance.
Lastly, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B-Complex, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, CoQ10, L-Carnitine, Melatonin, Ashwagandha, and Ginseng Blend, have all been shown to be beneficial to your prospects of a good night’s sleep.
So, a good sleep makes you healthier, smarter and happier.
Seen in that light, I’m sure you’d agree the benefits of packing yourself off to bed that little bit earlier, instead of staying up to watch that Seinfeld repeat you’ve seen five times already (guilty as charged…), is one of the best decisions you can make. Why not try it tonight!